Jose Mourinho’s resurgent Manchester United, with stars Zlatan Ibrahimovic set to be back from injury and Paul Pogba in good form, will attempt to reel in arch rivals Liverpool when Jurgen Klopp’s faltering side visit Old Trafford in Sunday’s Premier League headline clash.
United have won their last nine games in all competitions -- their best run since an 11-match winning streak in early 2009 -- while Liverpool are still to win a game in 2017.
Mourinho’s men needed an ultra-defensive performance to secure a 0-0 draw at Anfield when the teams last met in October, but three months on, his team are now firing on all cylinders.
“Because the results are better, that changes a lot of things,” the United manager said. “You know, at that time I had less time of working together with my players. Now I have a little bit more.
“We know each other better, we have a certain way of thinking football, we have a certain way to play football.
“We don’t just have good performances, we have also the happiness of the good results.”
United’s trip to Anfield fell during a troubling sequence that saw them win just twice in 11 league outings.
But although they have sat in sixth place for over two months, they are now just three points off a Champions League place and five points below second-place Liverpool.
A key factor in their revival has been the improved form of record signing Paul Pogba, who has seemed liberated since Michael Carrick was brought into the team to anchor the midfield.
The France midfielder has scored three goals and supplied three assists in his last 10 games and credits Mourinho with giving him the freedom to play his natural game.
“He said, ‘You know how to play, do what you want,’” Pogba told the BBC. “He let me free on the pitch.
“He told me just to enjoy myself. That is it. That is all I need to hear from the manager.”
Wayne Rooney would love to score the 250th goal he needs to surpass Bobby Charlton as United’s outright record scorer against Liverpool, but having started the last two games, he may drop to the bench.
Mourinho hopes to have 18-goal top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic back after he missed Tuesday’s 2-0 League Cup semi-final first-leg win over Hull City through illness.
Marcos Rojo, who missed that game with a muscle strain, is also due to be assessed, but fellow defender Eric Bailly is on Africa Cup of Nations duty with the Ivory Coast.
Liverpool established their credentials as leaders Chelsea’s closest rivals by beating Manchester City 1-0 on New Year’s Eve, only to then be held to a 2-2 draw at struggling Sunderland.
They followed it up by drawing 0-0 against fourth-tier minnows Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup and then losing 1-0 at Southampton in their own League Cup semi-final first leg.
Klopp conceded his side were fortunate not to have lost more heavily at St Mary’s, but he is confident they will rise to the occasion on Sunday.
“I hear it in your questions, I hear it when I talk to different people,” he told his pre-game press conference.
“Because of our last game it is like, ‘Oh my God, and now it is Man United.’ But give me 11 players and we will be competitive.
“I know how they (players) react to not-that-good performances. It is not about being confident before the game.
“It is about getting confidence in the game with the right kind of movements, right kind of defending.
“They (United) are better, more used to each other (than in October). They are more confident. It is a different side.”
Klopp has been lifted by the return to fitness of Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who returned from an ankle problem at Southampton.
Captain Jordan Henderson (heel) and centre-back Joel Matip (ankle), both of whom have been badly missed this month, could also feature after returning to training.